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August 2021

Psychiatr Clin North Am. 1987 Mar; 10(1): 69-85.

Pain in the neck, face, and head. Role of the consultation-liaison psychiatrist.

Lipsitt DR.

The special nature of pain in the face, head, and neck is not emphasized in the psychiatric literature on chronic pain. Although chronic pain of all types and locations share many features the psychological and symbolic significance of the head in the development of self-esteem, body image, and interpersonal relationships often confers special characteristics of pain on this area. As psychiatric consultation is not likely to be requested for patients with head, face, and neck pain in the absence of blatant "psychiatric" problems, it behooves the psychiatrist to exercise his liaison functions to enhance patient care in the inpatient setting and to help physicians recognize the utility of early psychiatric assessment on an outpatient basis with patients not yet requiring hospitalization. A collegial relationship with internists, dentists, neurologists, and surgeons facilitates the psychiatrist's role as a "team participant," often more effective in providing brief diagnostic, therapeutic, and management recommendations for patients who are usually not psychologically-minded and reluctant to pursue ongoing psychiatric treatment. However, the consultation-liaison psychiatrist can play an important role in expanding his colleagues' awareness of the multiple meanings of pain and the accompanying illness behavior, provide pedagogic help in the interviewing or history-taking process, offer suggestions about psychopharmacologic and other drug treatment, and serve as a resource for appropriate referral to sources of a variety of chronic pain treatments, including biofeedback, acupuncture, and family consultation. To fulfill both his consultative and liaison functions, it is incumbent upon the psychiatrist to be knowledgeable as well about nonpsychiatric aspects of pain of the head, face, and neck. We must acknowledge also how much we yet do not know: for example, why the psyche "chooses" a locus of pain in the body; how an external (or internal) stimulus is converted via cognitive, neuroendocrine, enzymatic, and other pathways to a somatic representation; the biochemistry of pain reduction by naturally occurring and synthetic drugs; and what characteristics distinguish the continuously creative individual who sustains persistent pain with barely an utterance from another who may "cave in" to seemingly trivial distress that results in total invalidism.


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